Saturday, June 15, 2013

ReThink London: pretty words and hollow promises

London planner: Dir. John Fleming
In my opinion, and in the opinion of others with whom I have talked at ReThink London events, the ReThink London project is falling flat. It is a lot of talk using pretty sounding phrases but that may be about all.

Planning a city is a big job and not one to be done by committee and consensus. What London needs is vision, imagination and knowledgeable leadership. The city planner should be rallying Londoners around his or her brilliant ideas and not asking, no pleading, for ideas from the electorate. This does not mean the city planners should have closed minds but rather they should have firm ideas of their own through which to filter the suggestions from the public.

For instance, ReThink London talks a great deal about wanting to create a compact city, to stop sprawl. And this is what Londoners want, we are told. But take a drive down Wonderland Road South, the new gateway to the city, and look at the long row of box stores popping up.

And what surrounds these stores? Acres and acres of asphalt. This is just unimaginative, bad planning. The planning in London is poor and fine words and pretty phrases won't change that fact for those who open their eyes and look.

Alternative to London box store developments.
Now, check out this picture taken in a chain-store mall development in Ohio. Note the apartments above the stores. Note the wide sidewalks. This is a shopping district that looks very much like commercial areas of North American cities of the past.

This commercial area in Ohio isn't perfect but I am sure our city planners are familiar with it. Take the idea from Ohio, it is also being tried in other communities, and improve upon what the Yanks have done.

I look at the Wonderland Rd. S. box stores and at the outdoor mall going up at the corner of Col. Talbot and Southdale Rd. W. and I am disgusted and disappointed. What I am seeing is NOT what was being promised for these areas a couple of decades ago.

At that time there was talk of new urbanism, of walkable communities and of compact development. The London Free Press had a weekend feature detailing what was planned. Doesn't that all sound oh-so-familiar?

ReThink London invited the fired director of planning for Vancouver, B.C., Brent Toderian to speak at one of the ReThink events. Toderian told the audience how box stores like Home Depot were being encouraged by the west coast city's planning department to build apartments above their urban outlets.

Winners, HomeSense and The Home Depot in Vancouver. Note apartments.
Now that is compact urban thinking.

I'm going to send a link to this blog to ReThink London. I've done this in the past and I have never received more than a computer generated thank you and we'll get back to you soon message. ReThink London is opening doors to communication with the community. Bunkum!

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